At JOI, we often use holidays as a method for reaching interfaith families and unaffiliated members of the community - for instance, Passover in the Matzah Aisle. But focusing on holidays that come once a year makes it easy to overlook a holiday that offers an opportunity for outreach every week of the year: Shabbat. Our executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky often notes that on Shabbat we bless our children through Ephraim and Manasseh, the interfaith grandchildren of our biblical patriarch Jacob (who Jacob took as his own).
Shabbat carries a strong message of inclusion – and one that can be an effective tool of outreach. That’s why we’re happy to see the organization Interfaithways will be hosting their second annual Interfaith Family Shabbat Weekend. From Nov. 14-16, according to the Jewish Exponent, interfaith families in the Delaware Valley (which covers the Philadelphia metropolitan area) will be able to go to 52 synagogues that have:
… committed to offer special free programs including Shabbat dinners; performances of “Two Become One: Reflections on Interfaith Families,” an interactive performance piece by Theatre Ariel that sparks discussion about identity, holiday celebrations, religious rituals and family dynamics; ceremonies honoring and blessing interfaith families raising Jewish children; and educational speakers and resource materials.
Gari Julius Weilbacher, managing director of Interfaithways, says the goal of the weekend, and of the organization, is “to reach out to the whole interfaith family; mom and dad, their parents and their children, and encourage their comfortable participation in Jewish life-cycle events and holiday celebrations.” But it’s also about more than getting them to come to one event – they want to create a community where interfaith families and the unaffiliated want to come back. “When these families feel accepted by and comfortable in the Jewish community there is a potential for them to affiliate Jewishly,” said Interfaithways founder Leonard Wasserman.
In our vision statement at JOI, we state: “The future of the North American Jewish community will be determined by the warmth, wisdom and caring with which we welcome and engage intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews into our midst.” We have spent the last 20 years following that vision, and we know conclusively that lowering barriers to participation and truly opening doors to all who are interested will have positive results. Interfaithways knows this to be true as well, which is why we have invited both Rabbi Rayzel Raphael and Rabbi Mayer Selekman of Interfaithways to participate in our upcoming Outreach Conference in Philadelphia. They are great partners in outreach towards interfaith families, and it’s great to see them coordinating such a large scale effort to reach these folks.